Monday, May 26, 2014

Sergeant Rafael Peralta USMC & Corporal Aung Thein

(Sad tale of two hero Sergeants: One from US Marines & one from our Burma Army.)

Sergeant Rafael Parelta and Corporal Aung Thein.
Our Burma one of the poorest nations on earth and the United States of America the only super-power of this world have been in their own wars since time immemorial. And the wars always produce heroes worthy of the bravery medals of highest honor their nations can bestow.

For US the Congressional Medal of Honor and for Burma the Thihathuya Medal. This is the tale of two heroic sergeants, one sergeant from US Marines and other one from Burma Army. They both were killed in very similar circumstances and they both clearly and selflessly sacrificed their own lives for their comrades and their country.

But one was controversially denied his bravery medal and his bereaving family has been suffering since while other one was quickly awarded his bravery medal and his family showered with cash and other rewards. Which one you would think rewarded and which one denied his rightful praise? Don’t rush to answer yet and please continue on reading as this story will blow your logical mind away.

Sergeant Rafael Peralta, US Marine Corps

Peralta, a Mexican immigrant who joined the Marine Corps as soon as he obtained his green card in 2000, deployed to Iraq as a scout leader with 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, and soon found himself leading a squad of Marines through house-to-house urban warfare during the second battle of Fallujah, Operation Al-Fajr.

According to a Marine Corps article from Cpl. Travis J. Kaemmerer, who was embedded with Peralta’s squad, on Nov. 15, 2004, Peralta and members of his squad kicked down a door and were instantly fired upon—Peralta was fatally wounded and fell to the floor.

In that instant, he noticed a grenade only a foot from his head, and without hesitation reached out, grabbed it and pressed it to his heart, subsequently saving the lives of the other Marines in his squad.

(Following was what then United States Secretary of Defense Robert Gates wrote in his recent 2014 memoir “DUTY: Memoirs of a secretary at war” published by Alfred A. Knopf.)

A recommendation landed on my desk in mid-2008 that U.S. Marine Sergeant Peralta receive the Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroism and self-sacrifice in the second battle of Fallujah on November 15, 2004.

Mangled flak-jacket of sergeant Peralta.
Peralta had volunteered for a house-clearing mission and, when entering the fourth Iraqi house in Fallujah, had opened a door and was hit several times with AK-47 fires. As two other marines entered behind him, an Iraqi insurgent threw a hand-grenade that surely would have killed them except that, according to eyewitnesses, Peralta pulled the hand-grenade under his body, absorbing the blast. He was killed instantly; the other marines survived.

The medal recommendation had been endorsed by the proper chain of approval, including the secretary of the Navy and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. But the recommendation also included dissenting views from the medical forensic community.

I personally interviewed several officers in Peralta’s chain of command, and in light of the unanimous support of the entire uniformed leadership involved, I approved the recommendation. I was satisfied that Sergeant Peralta met all the criteria and deserved the Medal of Honor.  

In December 2013 Light Infantry Battalion LIB-317 was slowly advancing on the steep slope of Lajaryan Hill Point-771 occupied by a heavily-armed Kachin insurgents of KIA (Kachin Independence Army) in Kachin State in Northern Burma.

Burmese Army’s various battalions were trying to take the hill from KIA defenders as that hill was the highest hill in the Lajaryan area and KIA had been shelling the nearby roads from the hilltop and disrupting the army advancing to capture KIA headquarters at nearby Laiza on the Chinese border.

Lajaryan hill Point-771's hilltop after army's capture.
LIB-317 was assigned to charge the hill and the battalion CO himself was on the slope that day in December-2013. Gravity was against the Burmese soldiers charging upward as KIA insurgents digging in on the hill top were firing down and throwing down hand-grenades at the charging soldiers.

The battalion HQ with CO and other officers and NCOs were already near the hill top while a KIA hand-grenade dropped right beside the CO. Corporal Aung Thein was also near the CO and without hesitation he jumped down onto the hand-grenade and took the whole blast into his thin body. His CO later wrote in his report that the whole incident happened in not more than four seconds. Corporal Aung Thein was instantly killed and his body basically shredded into pieces.

But he saved the battalion command and his battalion soon bayonet-charged the hilltop and drove KIA insurgents out. His battalion CO and the chain of command recommended him for Thihathuya Medal posthumously for his bravery and self-sacrifice that day.

On January 4, 2014 within just over a year from the bravery incident Burma President Thein Sein approved the recommendation from the army and awarded Thihthuya Medal the Burma’s highest honor for bravery to late Corporal Aung Thein and posthumously promoted to sergeant. His wife was also showered with many gifts from government and other well-wishers and a generous survivor pension and a handsome cash of Kyats 1.6 million.

Apparently Burmese know how to reward their unsung heroes unlike United States Government and its armed forces including the US Marine Corps. Marine Sergeant Rafael Peralta was eventually denied his deserving Medal of Honor despite his self-sacrifice. And his surviving family was humiliated by that controversial decision and they have been suffering since for nearly ten years today.
Presidential order awarding Corporal Aung Thein a Thihathuya Medal.

Controversy Surrounding The Death of Marin Sergeant Peralta

After his death in 2004 in Fallujah, Sgt. Rafael Peralta became perhaps the most lionized Marine of the Iraq war. Shot in the head during an intense firefight, the story went, the infantryman scooped a grenade underneath his body seconds before it exploded, a stunning act of courage that saved the lives of his fellow Marines.

The Navy posthumously awarded Peralta the Navy Cross, the service’s second-highest decoration for valor; named a destroyer after him; and made plans to display his battered rifle in the Marine Corps museum in Quantico, Va.

The tale of heroism has become emblematic of Marine valor in wartime. But new accounts from comrades who fought alongside Peralta that day suggest it may not be true.

In interviews, two former Marines who were with Peralta in the house when he was shot said the story was concocted spontaneously in the minutes after he was mortally wounded — likely because several of the men in the unit feared they might have been the ones who shot him.

“It has always bugged me,” said Davi Allen, a Marine who was wounded in the grenade blast and who said he watched it detonate near, but not underneath, Peralta. After years of sticking to the prevailing narrative, Allen, 30, said he recently decided to tell the truth. “I knew it’s not the truth. But who wants to be the one to tell a family: ‘Your son was not a hero’?”

Reggie Brown, another Marine who was with Peralta that day, said that as members of the squad scrambled away from the blast, one of them said that claiming that Peralta had jumped on the grenade would be a good way to honor his legacy.

“I can remember people saying it would be the right thing to do, to say that he did more than he did,” Brown, 31, said in an interview, speaking publicly about the case for the first time. “I disagree with everything my fellow Marines proclaim to have seen.”

The Navy’s years-long effort to award Peralta the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest decoration for courage on the battlefield, has been stymied by military physicians who have studied the case and determined that the forensic evidence made the grenade-thwarting accounts implausible. That finding has infuriated many Marines over the years.

On Friday night, the Pentagon announced that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel had turned down a request by Rep. Duncan D. Hunter (R-Calif.) to reopen a Medal of Honor nomination for Peralta. Hagel, after an extensive review that included new material gathered by Hunter’s office, determined that “the totality of the evidence” was insufficient to award a Medal of Honor, the Pentagon said in a statement.

But Hunter, a former Marine who served in Fallujah, said in an interview earlier this month that awarding the medal is “the right thing to do. When you have young Marines saying, ‘I’m not dead, because he jumped on the grenade,’ that’s all we need to know. There’s no reason to complicate this.”


On the morning of Nov. 15, eight days into the operation, Peralta’s team came under fire after entering a house. The Marines shot back as they scrambled to ascertain where the insurgents were firing from. A handful of the infantrymen saw Peralta drop to the floor. Seconds later, an Iraqi grenade landed near him and exploded.

In the immediate aftermath of the blast, some of the men in the unit feared they had been the ones who shot Peralta, according to Allen. Tony Gonzales, a corporal who was outside the house, said one of the Marines approached him, put a hand on his shoulder and wept. “I shot Peralta with a three-burst round to the face,” the Marine told him, according to Gonzales. “He ran right in front of my line of fire.”

Brown, who said he dashed out of the house when he saw the grenade land on the floor, recalls feeling uncomfortable when he heard Marines in the squad suggest that they embellish the story of Peralta’s death. Another Marine who was outside the house and corroborated Brown’s account said the story of Peralta jumping on the grenade didn’t feel like a coverup at the time.

“Looking back, I truly believe it was something they wanted to be noble,” said the Marine, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he remains in the service and does not want to be publicly associated with the controversy. “I don’t think it was something done to cover anything up. It was more like, this is something we should do for him.”

Allen was the closest person to the grenade other than Peralta and was severely wounded in the backside. As his comrades began treating his wounds, he said he heard Adam Morrison, another Marine in the room, say that Peralta had jumped on the grenade. “That was the first I heard of it,” he said. “I had my eyes on the grenade.”

Allen said he doesn’t think anyone acted maliciously. “Many people thought they had shot him,” he said. “That’s why the story was created. It just happened organically.”

In written statements about the firefight collected by the Marine Corps, several Marines described having seen Peralta take the brunt of the blast after pulling the grenade underneath his body. Two Marines who were in the house that day and have described having witnessed Peralta scoop up the grenade said in interviews this week that the account they told then and have repeated over the years is truthful.

Nicholas Jones, the squad leader, called Brown’s account “ridiculous,” adding that there was “no effort to come up with a conspiracy theory.” Robert Reynolds said that what he witnessed that day is the type of heroism “you only hear about in boot camp. To live it out was unreal.”

Reynolds said Peralta saved his life that morning. “He gave me a chance to a second life,” he said. He said the notion that Marines had agreed to make up the story was impossible, noting that he and others were medically evacuated soon after the blast.

Morrison, a staff sergeant who remains in the Marines and has not spoken publicly about the Peralta case, said this week that he did not wish to discuss his memories from that day in detail on the record.

“I fully respect and honor both viewpoints of the Marines that have testified to this event and I have nothing but the highest esteem for all those who were there and fought alongside Sgt. Peralta,” he said in an e-mail. “I am honored to have been trained and fought alongside Sgt. Peralta. I believe Sgt. Peralta saved my life.”


Days after the fight, a Marine combat journalist who was with the unit that day penned a gripping firsthand account of the battle, claiming that three insurgents firing Kalashnikov rifles shot Peralta “at point-blank range” in the torso and face.

“In an act living up to the heroes of the Marine Corps’ past, . . . Peralta — in his last fleeting moments of consciousness — reached out and pulled the grenade into his body,” Travis J. Kaemmerer wrote in an account that remains on a Marine Corps Web site. Kaemmerer died in a car accident in Virginia in 2006.

The story quickly became national news in the United States and provided a measure of comfort to Rosa Peralta. “I don’t have the slightest doubt that he did that for his comrades,” she said in a recent interview. “I know he would have given it all for his friends.”

President George W. Bush paid tribute to the Marine’s heroism in a radio address broadcast Memorial Day weekend in 2005, saying that “Sergeant Peralta gave his life to save his fellow Marines.”

The first packet of evidence the Marine Corps submitted supporting a Medal of Honor had to undergo a second review to attempt to reconcile the eyewitness accounts with the conclusions of forensic doctors. The physicians had concluded that Peralta’s gunshot wound would have rendered him unable to respond to the grenade seconds later.

The Navy moved forward with the package after getting alternate opinions from other forensic experts and conducting new interviews with eyewitnesses.

Two of those interviews raised red flags about the veracity of the story, according to documents reviewed by The Washington Post. Gonzales said in a Nov. 9, 2005, sworn statement that there was a debate among Marines about whether the tale of heroism was true and that a sergeant was pressuring some to stick to the story since the case would probably be submitted for a Medal of Honor.

Allen said in a Nov. 14, 2005, sworn statement that when he was being treated for his wounds, the then-acting platoon sergeant visited him.

“He told me to ‘do what’s right,’ which I interpreted to mean provide a statement that included Sgt. Peralta jumping on or swooping the grenade under his body or otherwise making his actions more valorous than they actually were,” the statement said. Allen said he was vague when he provided the statement, saying he had not seen whether Peralta covered the grenade.

The revised petition was presented to then-Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates after the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Navy signed off on it. It included dissenting views from medical experts and the undersecretary for personnel and readiness. Gates wrote in his recent memoir, “Duty,” that he approved the petition after speaking to officers in Peralta’s chain of command and signed the recommendation that would be sent to the White House.

But Gates disclosed in the book that after someone (who?) threatened to file a complaint with the Pentagon’s inspector general, he appointed a senior panel of independent experts to review the case. In August 2008, the five panel members, who were given access to all of the available records, reached the unanimous conclusion that Peralta could not have deliberately pulled the grenade under his body after he was shot.

In the recent interview, Rosa Peralta said she has come to terms with the possibility that her son may have been shot by a comrade, but she said the evidence that Marine Corps officials have shared with her makes her certain he died heroically.

Having failed to get him the Medal of Honor, the Navy would instead award Peralta the Navy Cross, a worthy recognition of the way he died. “Without hesitation and with complete disregard for his own personal safety, Sergeant Peralta reached out and pulled the grenade to his body, absorbing the brunt of the blast and shielding fellow Marines only feet away,” the citation read.

The Peralta family turned down the Navy Cross, and held out for the Medal of Honor. It never came.

(Blogger’s Notes: I honestly believe that re-digging up a case of death on Iraqi front-line after four long years of that vicious war in Iraq was a case of gross injustice, and Sergeant Rafael Peralta should have been awarded his Congressional Medal of Honor.)

Bereaving mother and sister at Sergeant Parelta's tombstone.
                                              (Ronald Reagan's Speech "We Must Fight!")
The Memorial Day statement by (CAIR) Council On American Islamic Relations.